It is the first ever warrant for a sitting head of state.

Sudan rejected the ICC move, describing it as part of a "neo-colonialist" plan.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum for a greater share of resources and power.

'Destabilisation'

Qin also urged on the UN Security Council to "respect calls by the African Union, Arab League and Non-Aligned Movement ... and call on the International Criminal Court not to hear this case for the time being".

China and the African Union have said that an indictment of al-Bashir could destabilise the region, worsen the Darfur conflict and threaten a peace deal between north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south.

China buys the majority of Sudan's oil and is one of the African nation's most important trading partners.

It has also sent troops to the Darfur region as part of a UN peacekeeping mission there.